Have Some More Haggis, John Conway

John Conway’s analysis of the Scottish independence referendum, philosophically, reads about the same as my attempt to review records by new Canadian bands or artists. Just as every group with two guitarists makes me think of either The Tragically Hip or The Rheostatics, never thinking that newer contemporaries may be a bigger influences, Conway tries to shoehorn his comparing of next week’s groundbreaking vote with the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum.

About the only things those two events will have in common is the behaviorism of the leaders. Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, is promising a greener, cleaner, richer Scotland without explaining how it will come about. He’s also promising economic divorce with bed privileges – an independent government that will share the pound sterling with the country to the south (which, economically, isn’t independence at all).

And the No side is led by idiots too busy defending the established political and economic order to a populace that has been ripped off, politically and economically, by that order, and consequently has tuned them out. They’re trying to win the referendum by scaring Scotsmen and Scotswomen. You can reason with a Scotsman (or woman), debate him or her, argue with him or her, or fight with him or her. But you can’t scare a Scotsman. I speak from experience. Mum’s from Kirremuir.

Quebec’s separatist movement has always been inward looking, while Scotland has mostly been an outward-looking society. Scotsmen went to India on business; Scotsmen built the railway systems and mining empires in South America in the 1800s (and introduced soccer in the process), Scotsmen have been involved in Canadian affairs since the days of the fur trade. Maybe that’s why Quebec’s independence movement is more inward-looking (especially now, in the wake of the blunder around the Charter of Values and the PQ’s destruction in the last Quebec election) while the kind of cultural nationalism and fear that’s an integral part of Quebec’s independence movement is absent in the Scottish debate.

If the PQ philosophy on ‘who is a member of our country?’ was prevalent in Scotland, many who are Muslim, east Indian, from the Caribbean, or wherever, wouldn’t be welcome at pro-independence rallies or within the Scotland National Party. Anyone proposing a tartan equivalent of the Charter of Values would be laughed all the way to the Firth of Forth, if not become the recipient a Glasgow Kiss.

Scotland’s referendum brings to mind the Occupy movement, or Canada’s Idle No More activism, in which people who have been made victims by the economic and social policies of the day have their chance to kick the arbiters of the system right in the goolies. Thatcherism – the dismantling of Great Britain’s social safety net, the consolidation of economic power in London, transferring the tax load from an even consumer business split to consumers via consumption and income taxes, and the devil-takes-the-hindmost social mindset – hurt Scotland as much as it’s hurt any other area of the country. It’s just that Scotland’s population, as opposed to, say people in Liverpool or Yorkshire, get their say on whether to stay in a political system that’s permanently rigged against their favor. That’s the message being spread by Glasgow-area MP George Galloway — but the No side has pretty much ignored his (in my opinion, spot-on accurate) analysis.

The No side is trying to defend the indefensible. Most Britons want to see the end of Thatcherism and corporate rule by the establishment – when Thatcher died earlier this year, the song from the Wizard of Oz, ‘Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead,’ raced up the pop charts.

The best example comes from former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who in a recent speech in a Glasgow union hall railed on about the benefits of the National Health Service, and warned that the NHS was at risk in the event of Scottish independence. Everybody in that room – everybody who’s paid attention to UK politics in the past while – knows that Cameron’s Tory government is set to dismantle the NHS. There goes that argument.

Possibly the incompetent figure in this whole exercise in the British opposition leader, Ed Millbrand, leader of the Labour Party. Labour is strong in Scotland but the people of Scotland are as non-enamoured with Blair’s Cool Britannia (Thatcherism plus BritPop) as they are with the real deal. But Millbrand is as beholden to Blair’s template as Cameron is to Thatcher’s philosophy.

Austerity – the new name the political right has given Thatcherism – benefits the people at the top. There’s more people at the bottom. The people on the bottom of the economic pile want something different, and that’s why Alex Salmond is given the benefit of the doubt. Underneath the bluster, the deathbed repentances, the … I don’t know, promises to play Andy Stewart on BBC 3? … is the sound of a political establishment encountering a populace who no longer believes their bullshit.

Scotland’s people aren’t so much voting in favor of independence than they are voting against Thatcherism. But the political and economic establishment that dominates Great Britain today would rather destroy the country than question the political and economic value of the system which empowered and economically benefited them – at the expense of people outside of London and the banking community. People like the Scots. On that, I think Mr. Conway and I can agree.

Author: Stephen LaRose

2006 winner of the Canadian Association of University Teachers's Award of Excellence in Journalism for a bunch of prairie dog stuff. Invited into the best homes in Regina. Once.

3 thoughts on “Have Some More Haggis, John Conway”

  1. Rosie: you realize you’re arguing with John for not making the point you want him to make, rather than arguing with the article he actually wrote? As John writes in his column: “Without denying the great differences that exist [emphasis added], there are remarkable similarities between the drive for independence of the Québécois and Scottish nations.”

    John’s piece, which was informed by a recent trip to Scotland, is excellent. You make a lot of good points too, Rosie (by the way, Gwynne Dyer says the same things).

    You frame this as an argument, but you’re just approaching the topic from different angles.

    Just an observation. Carry on.

  2. Conway never fails to make an overly simplistic argument. This piece was no exception. Stephen is quite correct in his criticism. There are very few similarities between Scotland and Quebec. Quebec is of course a nation within a nation – but a nation that resulted from settling on indigenous land. Quebec has never been an independent polity – as Scotland was for over 300 years.

    There was more validity in Stephen’s brief synopsis than there has been in a Conway piece over the last decade.

    I still chuckle at his 2011 election piece where he was predicting a Michael Ignatieff majority government.

Comments are closed.